Donald Richie – the “Angel of the Gap,” who is credited with saving hundreds of people from killing themselves on a high-up cliff in Australia — died Monday at 85. He worked for 50 years to prevent such deaths and in 2011 was named Australia’s Local Hero of the Year.
The Gap is a notorious cliff on Watson’s Bay outside of Sydney that has drawn hundreds of people contemplating suicide. It is considered one of the top 10 sites in the world for suicide. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge ranks way up there as well. About 19 people die every year at the Golden Gate Bridge, according to the Bridge Rail Foundation, a nonprofit group in California that works to prevent suicides on the bridge.
Some people, in the depths of their agony, kill themselves privately – in their homes, in their cars, in the woods. But a certain percentage of people go for more public sites – places that incongruously are beautiful as well. The Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls or in contrast, a quiet, lush forest in Japan.
There are on average about 3,000 suicides each day, according to the World Health Organization. (The annual World Suicide Prevention Day, incidentally, this year is September 10.)
Increasing number of suicides
Suicides, apparently, are on the rise, though statistics are hard to come by. The New York Times recently found that, not surprisingly, suicides are increasing in Europe, which is dealing with its worst financial crisis since World War II. Suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge are also increasing, according to a report in March in the Huffington Post.
And where are the most suicides in the world? The International Association for Prevention of Suicide has found that documented rates are highest in Eastern Europe, such as Lithuania and Russia, and lowest in Central and South America, such as Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. The United States, Western Europe and Asia fall in the middle range. The reasons for the differences remain unclear.
In Australia, Don Richie’s efforts to help troubled people are being appreciated in his passing. “Don’s story touched the hearts of all Australians and challenged each of us to rethink what it means to be a good neighbor,” Tam Johnston, head of the national organization that awards the Local Hero, said on the group’s website on Monday.
“A warm smile and a hot cuppa”
From his home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Don kept watch for people seeking to kill themselves. According to a report in news.com.au, “Don saved despairing souls usually with little more than compassion, a warm smile and a hot cuppa.”
Don’s daughter described her father’s efforts in the Daily Telegraph of Australia: “He would take the dog for a walk and just quietly check things out. It was often a matter of a kind word and he would bring people back to our place for a cup of tea and breakfast.”
For the full report on Don in the Daily Telegraph, click onto the link below: